Done deal package with Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center services
June 22-28, 2020
By Cait Smith
Since the start of the coronavirus, many small businesses have faced the hardships of decline in revenue, customers, and even employees. If not essential, most businesses have had to close temporarily to follow the strict COVID-19 regulations. To stay afloat, however, more and more small businesses are turning to programs such as the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) for solutions.
ASBTDC is an economic development program focused on funding for-profit businesses in any industry sector. All their services – consulting, research, and training – are available to individuals who want to start a business or have an existing business. “Our clients receive one-to-one confidential consulting and market research services at no charge,” explained state director of ASBTDC Laura Fine. “We have subscriptions to several different databases for market research that can determine a client’s target customer and what is the best way to reach their customers, whether it be social media, email or direct mail marketing.”
With ASBTDC’s help, clients can properly assess a business location to determine if it will be a good fit for their target market. Clients can learn about their competitors as well. “It’s the same market research that companies like Nike or Home Depot are going to be using,” said Fine. Clients are then offered training services on a variety of topics from starting a business in Arkansas to hands-on quick book training to developing marketing strategies.
“We use our own staff to conduct training sessions or we’ll have industry experts present different ways clients can help their small business and employees grow,” she said.
Experienced consultants at ASBTDC also assist clients with cash flow projection. “We have a proven track record of helping businesses access capital – that’s a big part of what we do,” stated Fine. “Most of our referrals for new clients come from bank lenders. Lenders know our consultants are going to help them put together a solid loan proposal or package that lays out the best options for them.”
Once things are set in motion, ASBTDC will follow-up with clients to ensure customer satisfaction. “We meet with the client a couple of times in person just to establish that relationship … set that foundation for trust because we want our clients to continue seeking services from us,” said Fine.
Indeed, they have exemplified satisfactory; in 2019, 90% of clients rated ASBTDC services excellent or good.
ASBTDC takes COVID-19 head-on
As the virus settled into the state, ASBTDC saw an increase in demand from new and existing clients. “The majority of our time has been spent helping small businesses access capital through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), and some of the local program funding that is out there,” said Fine.
Even with adjusting all their services virtually, they are finding a significant increase in participation than they have ever experienced in the past. So far, ASBTDC has provided consulting services to over 1,100 small businesses – 46% of those being first time clients.
But with a high demand comes consequences. Fine expressed a challenge ASBTDC struggled with like most businesses was staying current on all the constant changes with the loan programs. “We have spent a significant amount of time just reading through the updates. We have been on webinars and conference calls with SBA and disaster assistance personnel here in Arkansas. Then we are turning right around and presenting webinars and talking to clients about all these changes,” she said.
To weather through the pandemic, ASBTDC have encouraged businesses to figure out what expenses they could cut to ensure they keep cash on hand. “The advice we have been giving to many of our small business clients is to communicate to their customers … make sure customers don’t forget that they are there. If they are still operating on some level, make sure customers know what their hours are. If they are reopening, make sure that they know that too,” said Fine.
They have even given the greenlight on businesses’ innovative ways of providing services safely. “Several businesses that were not online before jumped in and created online platforms. We’ve seen gym and yoga studios offering classes online. So, as we come out of this crisis, a lot of those ways of doing business, that’s just going to continue because business owners are seeing how their customers can easily access things that weren’t easily accessible before. They can make more money this way,” explained Fine.
A social media presence during this time is highly advised for businesses of all sectors. Most consumers are looking for answers from the internet, so active accounts are essential. “If businesses have not been active on social media, they are missing out. [ASBTDC] has seen a lot more engagement on our social media accounts, Facebook in particular. We have responded to plenty of comments and questions about disaster funding and how we can assist clients quickly,” Fine said.
With a lot of information floating around, Fine said that businesses need to stay on top of their game as some resources come from federal, state, or local levels. “[ASBTDC] has partners across the state like the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, local chambers, and the Arkansas Hospitality Association. We all collaborate to make sure that we are getting an adequate amount of information and resources out there to small businesses,” she said.
As the university-based economic development business program goes into their 40th year helping Arkansas businesses and entrepreneurs start, grow and prosper their fields, Fine said they will continue to spread awareness. “We are focused on making sure our services are impactful. And we hope to help as many small businesses in the state be successful and get them through this crisis,” she said.
PHOTO CAPTIONS: (Photos courtesy of ASBTDC)
The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center is helping small businesses, entrepreneurs weather the COVID-19 storm. “In the past, most of our training was offered in the classroom and we would do weekly webinars. But now we have 100% webinar-based training and we have found that there’s really an audience out there for that,” said ASBTDC state director Laura Fine.